Once it became clear that coach John Fox would return for a third season with the Bears, it became even more clear that quarterback Jay Cutler would not be back for a ninth. Now that the word is out regarding the team’s effort to find a trade partner for Cutler, the first question becomes whether the Bears will find one.
The second question becomes whether Cutler will accept it.
Yes, if he wants to earn a $12.5 million salary and up to $2.5 million in per-game roster bonuses, he will. But if he chooses not to show up at his next destination, Cutler won’t have to return a penny of the $54 million he received over the last three years. With no signing bonus on the deal he signed three years ago, there’s no obligation to return any of the compensation paid to Cutler under the terms of the contract.
It gives Cutler plenty of leverage, preventing the Bears from simply dumping him onto any team that will take him, regardless of whether Cutler has any desire to play there.
Ten years ago, the player Cutler supplanted in Denver — Jake Plummer — was traded to the Buccaneers against his wishes. Plummer retired, he didn’t earn a salary of $5.3 million, and he eventually paid back $3.5 million of $7 million in bonus money as part of a settlement with Tampa Bay. With no such complication for Cutler, he can slam the brakes on any trade by simply saying, “I’m not going there.”
It’s always better for a player to be a free agent, and that could be the end result of his time with the Bears. Then the question becomes whether anyone wants Cutler at all.
The team that makes the most sense continues to be the 49ers, where former teammate John Lynch is now the G.M. and the son of the man who drafted Cutler 11 years ago is now the head coach.